by Chrystle Fiedler
February 12, 2004
Everyone wants thick, lustrous
hair. Think of the allure attached to the locks of Samson
and Lady Godiva and-fast-forward to the present-the full
heads of Antonio Banderas and Julia Roberts.
" We're naturally attracted to hair as humans; it catches
the light, it frames the face, we like the feel of it," says
Catherine Jones, ND, LAc, a resident naturopathic physician
at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle, Washington.
"Fair or not, historically in many cultures, rich, thick
hair has been a sign of fertility and strength."
Along with that allure, latching onto natural ways to have
great-looking hair gives you the benefits of looks and
Every hair starts with a shaft that grows from a root. "The
root is contained deep within the hair follicle," says Dr.
Jones. "Each one has a sebaceous or oil gland, which
supplies the hair with necessary lubrication as it
approaches the surface of the scalp."
Each hair follicle has its own growth cycle, including a
resting period, the telogen phase, when hair falls out.
Because of these constant hair phases, each of us loses, on
average, about 100 hairs a day.
" The number of hairs the average person loses in a day
tends to increase in the fall as the leaves fall from the
tree and tends to decrease in the spring as the bulbs emerge
from the soil," Dr. Jones says. "We really are connected to
nature." Stress-due to rapid weight loss, infection, anemia,
prolonged illness, hormonal changes, hypoactive thyroid
disease, autoimmune conditions, eczema or psoriasis-can
influence hair growth and loss.
The Nature of Hair
Hair consists of proteins, lipids (fats), carbohydrates and
pigment (gray hair has reduced pigment; white, none at all).
Each shaft's structure is divided into a medulla, a cortex
and an outer cuticle. " The cuticle is coated with an
outside lipid-like layer, which protects the hair," says Dr.
Jones. "As the hair grows out of the follicle, the cortex
and cuticle become keratinized and harden."
Dry or damaged hair is more susceptible to breakage. "The
condition of the cuticle affects how the light reflects off
the hair, giving it highlights and luster," Dr. Jones says.
"Luster is affected both by what occurs inside the body as
the hair is developing and what happens to the hair after it
has grown from the shaft."
Sun, heat, moisture, pollution and hair products, dyes and
bleaches can all dull the hair. "Applying chemical solutions
to the hair, color, permanent waves or curl relaxers, damage
the protein molecules that wrap around the shaft, leaving
hair brittle and dull," says Christina Pirello, author of
Glow: A Prescription for Radiant Health and Beauty (HP
Conditioners and oils can leave a residue or weigh hair
down. Hair sprays and products that contain alcohol can dry
and damage the hair, as can using blow dryers and curling
Hair's Natural Nutrients
To combat hair-raising havoc, feed your hair natural
nutrients for health. Silica and plants that contain
silica/silicon both strengthen hair and promote growth.
"Silica is a good mineral for hair health," says Walter
Siegordner, founder of The Aurora Group, a personal care
company. "It helps in the keratinization process of the
cells that produce hair."
" Silica is a mineral that is involved in the synthesis of
bone and connective tissue," adds Dr. Jones. "The hair
follicle contains connective tissue so silica may promote
the health and function of the follicle itself."
Silica-containing herbs include nettles (Urtica dioica),
horsetail (Equisetum arvense), oatstraw (Avena sativa) and
alfalfa (Medicago sativa).
Sea plants like seaweed and kelp also provide vital
nutrients. "Sea plants are essential ingredients in many
natural shampoos and can be used to fortify damaged hair,"
says Pirello. "They're rich in vitamin A that prevents the
build-up of dead skin cells, which can clog the hair
follicles, inhibiting the growth and health of the hair, and
also contain vitamin B, linked to the prevention of oily
hair, baldness and dandruff. Calcium found in sea plants is
essential to the structure of the hair shaft."
Eaten on s daily basis, sea plants are rich in nutrients
that help maintain healthy, shiny hair, free of split ends,
Pirello says. Try wakame in soups and salads, kombu or kelp
in bean and vegetable dishes, nori in sushi, and hiziki and
arame as side dishes.
Since hair health is affected by digestive health, the fiber
found in whole grains also helps. "Fiber prevents
accumulation in the intestines that can result in the
formation of toxins," says Pirello.
Miso, she adds, is especially good hair food. It "is rich in
living enzymes that ease digestion, fortify the quality of
the blood nourishing the body and hair, and provide us with
essential oils, vitamins and minerals."
Key nutritional support includes adequate protein and amino
acids, essential fatty acids such as cold-pressed flax seed
oil and fish oil, copper, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D,
biotin, iron and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). Zinc and
selenium can help combat the effects of hyperthyroidism,
which can result in thinning, lackluster hair.
Vitamin C can boost adrenal health. "When the adrenals are
overtaxed and become fatigued, hair follicles will go into a
resting phase," says Dr. Jones. (If you have a medical
condition, she adds, check with your health care
practitioner first before taking supplements.)
Ancient Chinese Hair Secrets
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hair is associated with the
kidneys' qi, energy that originates in these organs, and
with blood quality. " From the traditional Chinese
perspective, excess amounts of fat, protein, dairy, sugar,
alcohol and salt in the diet acidify the body, damage the
Kidney qi and are not good for the hair," says Dr. Jones. A
diet rich in vegetables and grains is a great way to support
healthy hair. "Iron and mineral-rich foods are considered
blood builders and hair tonics. Foods such as blackstrap
molasses, seaweed, nettles, and the herb polygonum
multiflorum (also known as He Shou Wu and Fo-Ti) have been
used throughout the years. Fo-Ti has also been used to
prevent graying of the hair and support the immune system."
Revive Hair Glow
" Hair is extremely strong but at the same time it's
extremely delicate," says Barsoum Bouchar, a cosmetologist
and owner of the Virtuoso Salon in Birmingham, Michigan.
"Many products work against the hair texture, so the cuticle
is always raised. This causes tangles and split ends. With
blow dryers, chemicals, colors and styling elements, the
hair is tremendously abused." If you don't have to
chemically treat the hair, he says, don't.
When replenishing the hair it's important to remember that
it's composed of 97% protein and 3% moisture, says Bouchar.
Shampoo cleanses the hair and removes buildup. "A
moisturizer brings moisture back into the hair and smoothes
the cuticle down, which is what makes hair shiny and gives
it bounce. The one key ingredient in both shampoo and
moisturizers is aloe vera. It heals the hair."
" Avoid products with harsh surfactants like sodium laurel
sulfate and propylene glycol," warns Siegordner. "These
decrease the circulation in the scalp, reducing the pathway
for nutrition to the hair bulb." Conditioners that aren't
natural can also cause build-up. "When you apply heat to the
hair through blow drying or styling, you end up 'burning'
the hair," says Bouchar.
To stimulate hair growth, add a few drops of essential oils
of rosemary, lavender and thyme to jojoba and almond oils,
and rub into the scalp. Leave it overnight and then rinse it
off. " Essential oils have antimicrobial and antifungal
properties, stimulate the circulation to the hair follicles
and combat dryness. They also smell good," says Dr. Jones.
For hair that's not chemically treated, "a vinegar rinse
cleanses the hair, removes build-up and boosts shine," says
Bouchar. Use one part vinegar to ten parts water, apply
after a shampoo, comb though and rinse it off. To naturally
lighten the hair, use the same ratio in a lemon rinse for
five minutes for, say, four days in a row, and then stop.
If you want to color your hair, choose natural elements,
too. "The best natural dye is henna," says Bouchar. "It's
organic, just like hair is." Blonde hair becomes warmer with
a coppery tone, brunette hair takes on a mahogany hue, gray
hair looks like highlights.
To find a good natural hair stylist, Bouchar suggests asking
which products they use and why. If your hair is chemically
treated, it's especially important to work with a stylist
you trust for the best care.
Keep your eye on the big picture when it comes to hair
health. "Be proactive and treat the body holistically,"
urges Dr. Jones. "Nourish the glands, the organs and the
vessels that are responsible for getting the necessary
nutrients to the hair follicle. Pay attention to the
physical, emotional and mental aspects of health. Once hair
is lost it may come back but it will likely be thinner than
it was before. It's important to take care of what you